Obituary: Abdoulaye Ndiaye

IN FRANCE, as in Britain, the 80th anniversary of the Armistice of 11 November 1918 was celebrated with a particular emotion.

It was clear that the number of those who had served in the First World War and who were still alive had been dramatically reduced. Would there be anyone still alive next year? Therefore a number of former soldiers, of whom the youngest was 98 and the oldest was 107, were decorated with the Legion d'Honneur by the tomb of the unknown soldier at the Arc de Triomphe.

But, in addition, one soldier was to receive the same decoration in his home village in Africa. Abdoulaye Ndiaye, aged 104 (or 109, by his own report) was to be honoured by the French ambassador in Dakar, who would make his way to Thiovor, with its 1500 inhabitants, on 11 November. But the day before, as he was choosing the tunic that he would wear, the last of the Senegalese riflemen collapsed and died.

This death has aroused much emotion in France, not only because of the particular circumstances in which it took place, but because there was a real interest in recalling the role that troops from overseas France played in the First World War (and subsequently in the second). It has been said that 180,000 troops were mobilised who came from French West Africa and that 25,000 of them perished. But because these figures were small, compared with the numbers of Frenchmen who served in the army and compared with the terrible numbers of Frenchmen who were killed, they have invariably been overlooked.

It was General Charles Mangin who, in his 1910 book La Force Noire, sought to supplement the demographic weakness of France by calling upon the manpower reserves of the French colonial empire. In 1915 he spoke of an army of half a million men coming from West Africa and Indo-China. The case of Abdoulaye Ndiaye shows that events did not follow such grand aspirations.

His earliest memories of the French, as he told the journalists who visited him, were of traders who bought ground-nut oil and of soldiers who protected the Africans from the "Moors" who sought to enslave them. Then, one day, the French military arrived in the village and said that because France had brought the benefits of civilisation, they must in return protect France against her enemies.

Apparently certain individuals were forced to volunteer. But a cousin of Ndiaye refused and went into hiding. Consequently, his father, Ndiaye's uncle, was imprisoned. But he was of noble caste and Ndiaye felt obliged to volunteer in order that he should be released. Hence he found himself, along with 10 others from the village, undergoing medical tests in Louga, travelling from Dakar to Morocco, and from there to Marseilles.

During this time he received instruction in the French language, which was all the more necessary since the West African contingent did not all speak the same language. He was also given an elementary military training. All this must have been very rapid, since his military record, as documented in the archives, show him as being on the front in Belgium, where he was wounded, in August 1914. (The order for general mobilisation was issued in Paris on the afternoon of Saturday 1 August, and the German declaration of war on France was 3 August.)

We know that he spent some time in hospital after this wound and we know that he always carried the scars on the top of his head. But, as he was also wounded on the Somme in July 1916 it is not clear what experience followed which wounding.

He appears to have seen much of the war. In addition to fighting on the Northern Front in 1915 he took part in the Dardanelles expedition. Britain and France had declared war on the Ottoman Empire in November 1914 but the French High Command had been reluctant to take troops away from the vital Western Front and had only consented to send a contingent made up of Foreign Legionnaires, troops who had been in depots and Senegalese.

Ndiaye remembered catching a glimpse of Istanbul in the mist, but as a Muslim, he remembered particularly that the French commander thought that he would surprise the enemy by attacking on a Friday, the day of prayer. He remembered that he and some of his companions wept because they did not want to make war against fellow Muslims.

He had no feelings about the Germans. He knew nothing about them except that they were very cunning and that they wanted to kill him. He was young and strong. He recalled breaking a German soldier's legs before making him prisoner. He found two Germans hiding in a shell hole and threw his grenade at them. He never thought of disobeying orders but he was thinking of his uncle back in Thiowor. If he were to desert that would bring shame on him.

He met many French people, since, apart from his stays in hospital, he and other African troops were moved south during the winter, and he seems to have spent some time in Saint Raphael. There were French people who had never seen anyone as black as him, and they asked if it was the sun that had made him thus, "or was it the work of God?" French women, he claimed, gave him food and some of them wanted to make love with him, but he refused.

After the Dardanelles he fought on the Somme, at Verdun in 1917 and again in 1918. He was made a corporal. After the armistice he was given the Croix de Guerre and asked to re-enlist. But, according to one French journalist, he wanted to get back to his mother, his brother and his camel. He lived the rest of his days in Thiowor.

In many ways he was like any old soldier, talking about "14 to 18", remembering his old army number (14576), recalling the discomforture of the trenches. Perhaps he did not know how rare it was for the French to recognise the role of the troops from l'Afrique Noire. It was not until May 1983 that a movement acknowledged "the memory of the Senegalese soldiers who died in the battle of the Chemin des Dames".

Ndiaye did discover that a war pension was due to him as a soldier who had been wounded. This was in 1949. He received from that date a regular monthly pension which was much less that that received by men of French nationality. But it kept his family, some 30 people in all, in their primitive comfort. He also received the right to travel on French railways at a reduced rate.

Abdoulaye Ndiaye, soldier: born Thiovor, Senegal 1894; married; died Thiovor 10 November 1998.

Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015 Bringing you all the news from the 87th Academy Awards

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars ceremony 2015 will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles
Oscars 2015A quiz to whet your appetite for tonight’s 87th Academy Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Sigourney Weaver, as Ripley, in Alien; critics have branded the naming of action movie network Movies4Men as “offensive” and “demographic box-ticking gone mad”.
TVNaming of action movie network Movies4Men sparks outrage
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Sleater Kinney perform at the 6 Music Festival at the O2 Academy, Newcastle
musicReview: 6 Music Festival
Kristen Stewart reacts after receiving the Best Actress in a Supporting Role award for her role in 'Sils Maria' at the 40th annual Cesar awards
A lost Sherlock Holmes story has been unearthed
arts + ents Walter Elliot, an 80-year-old historian, found it in his attic,
Arts and Entertainment
Margot Robbie rose to fame starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street

Film Hollywood's new leading lady talks about her Ramsay Street days

Arts and Entertainment
Right note: Sam Haywood with Simon Usborne page turning
musicSimon Usborne discovers it is under threat from the accursed iPad
Arts and Entertainment
A life-size sculpture by Nick Reynolds depicting singer Pete Doherty on a crucifix hangs in St Marylebone church
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Escalating tension: Tang Wei and Chris Hemsworth in ‘Blackhat’
filmReview: Chris Hemsworth stars as a convicted hacker in Blackhat
Arts and Entertainment

Oscar voter speaks out

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscars race for Best Picture will be the battle between Boyhood and Birdman

Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn (Claire Foy), Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance)
tvReview: Wolf Hall
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Meighan of Kasabian collects the Best Album Award
Arts and Entertainment
Best supporting stylist: the late L’Wren Scott dressed Nicole Kidman in 1997
Arts and Entertainment
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan as Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey in Fifty Shades of Grey


Arts and Entertainment
Mick Carter (Danny Dyer) and Peggy Mitchell (Barbara Windsor)
tv occurred in the crucial final scene
Arts and Entertainment
Glasgow wanted to demolish its Red Road flats last year
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

    Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

    Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
    How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

    Time to play God

    Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
    MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

    MacGyver returns, but with a difference

    Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
    Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

    Tunnel renaissance

    Why cities are hiding roads underground
    'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

    Boys to men

    The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
    Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

    Crufts 2015

    Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
    10 best projectors

    How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

    Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
    Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

    Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

    Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
    Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

    Monaco: the making of Wenger

    Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

    Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

    Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

    In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

    This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
    'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

    Homage or plagiarism?

    'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
    Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

    Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

    A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower